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Communication Guide: Answering Customer Questions about Seafood and Climate Change

Posted by on Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

How will climate change affect the seafood we eat?

Some (if not all) of us in the seafood industry have been posed with challenging questions from our customers. We are well-prepared to answer the more typical inquiries – where does it come from, how was it caught, which wine pairs best with which fillet – but now consumers are taking a vested interest in a more complicated topic, one that is not so easily explained. The words “climate change” have swept across our nation, hinting that many aspects of our lives are going to be affected.

climate change

Consumers will begin to ask more questions about climate change and seafood as new science emerges.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Takashi Hososhima

If you serve seafood to your clients, you must be prepared for this inevitable question. Scientists are only just beginning to understand how climate change is going to affect seafood, but we do know that it will be affected. Consumers hear this, but it is not an easy concept to understand. They will come to us to answer their questions, especially those of us in the sustainable seafood industry. We care about our oceans, therefore we must stay informed about climate change and how it will affect the industry, and, ultimately, our customers.

It is a topic that we can no longer ignore. Now is the time to show our customers how much we care about our seafood and serving them. The problem is that the topic of climate change is intimidating. There are so many weird, dry, complex scientific facts dancing across our television and computer screens, and it’s tough to keep it all straight. But if you take the extra step and make sure your business and staff is prepared to answer the climate change questions in the years to come, you will have the ability to put your clients at ease and earn their trust on this topic, inspiring them to choose to return to your business time and again.

Communicating climate change

Many of the concepts shown to us online and in the news are abstract, causing confusion as to what climate change actually means. We know it affects our planet’s atmosphere, weather patterns, and ecosystems in many different ways. However, the dry and emotionless facts with which we are often presented don’t make a memorable impression. On the opposite side of the spectrum, sensationalism doesn’t work either. No one enjoys being told that they need to change the way they live or the planet will suffer; so we ignore the fanatics, brushing them off as too extreme to be legitimate.

So how do we communicate climate change to our clients? It can and does affect the seafood industry, yet we are only just beginning to understand how. Climate change is a very complex process, not easily explained by our servers to undecided patrons in a busy restaurant atmosphere. There is no need to become an expert on the nitty gritty details of the exact chemistry or go into depth on the precise process. There are just simply a few guidelines that we can follow to help us prepare our management, hosts, servers, and anyone else who comes into contact with diners. Following these guidelines will ensure that your staff is ready to answer a complex questions without hesitation.

climate change

Make certain your staff are prepared to answer the tough questions about climate change and seafood.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Steven Depolo

Stay informed

Your staff doesn’t need to know the intricate processes behind climate change, but it is important to keep abreast of current events and scientific studies. Print out a Climate Change 101 guide and provide it for your employees. Granted, it’s not exactly light reading for the break room, but even just skimming it gives the reader a good idea what it’s all about. And it’s great to keep up with current events, such as Obama’s recent Climate Action Plan.

Avoid the doomsday theory

We don’t really know how climate change will affect us in the long run, but it’s never productive to say the planet is doomed. There is ongoing research on climate change and its affects so that we can better understand what it means and how to prepare for it. There is also a huge movement in the United States and elsewhere in the world to provide environmentally friendly alternatives – such as electric cars, wind and solar power – to fossil fuels. We are making huge advancements towards understanding how to lessen the impact by reducing our carbon footprint. There are great resources for how individuals, families, and organizations can cut back on carbon emissions.

What does it mean for seafood?

There is one main threat that climate change poses to our seafood supply – warming ocean temperatures. A secondary effect of human carbon emissions (and an even more intricate topic) is ocean acidification. Each one has a different set of threats and ways to mitigate them. It is always important to say that ongoing research is studying these effects and continuously providing us with new information.

Warming ocean temperatures have the ability to make some areas more favorable for harmful invasive species, like the European green crab along the Atlantic coast. It can also drive cold-water species, such as cod, closer to the Earth’s polar regions, changing their distribution and making it difficult to predict where to find them. Less developed nations may have a harder time finding their normal fish catches, as their fleets are smaller and can’t travel as far.

Ocean acidification is an entirely different beast than climate change, even though carbon emissions cause both. If you are engaged in an in-depth conversation about climate change and seafood, it is best to have some knowledge of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is the process by which the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes more acidic. This mainly threatens the health of coral reefs and shellfish, as higher acidity makes it harder for them to build their shells and skeletons. The major threat to our seafood supply is the health of shellfish, such as oysters, clams, mussels, crabs, and lobster. Higher acidity also may affect fish and cause interesting behavior that could affect fisheries either positively or negatively.

climate change

Ocean acidification, a secondary effect of human carbon emissions, is more likely to affect the shellfish industry.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Karen Neoh

Emphasize the importance of sustainable fisheries

Well-managed, sustainable fisheries are in a much better position to adapt to climate change than poorly managed or depleted fisheries, being more resilient than their poorly managed counterparts. Proper management means that people are able and willing to respond efficiently to threats. These renewable sources will become increasingly important as we continue to learn the impacts on agriculture and fisheries. By choosing sustainable seafood from businesses such as yours, consumers are helping protect our seafood supply from the potential affects of climate change.

Explain how your business reduces carbon emissions

Many businesses in the Bay Area have taken steps towards reducing their carbon footprint. If your customers are asking about climate change, it’s likely that they will love to hear what steps your business has taken. Using less paper, reducing electricity usage, and initiating a proper recycling and compost program are all excellent ways that a business can cut down on both costs and carbon emissions. Seafood from local fisheries has a smaller carbon footprint because it doesn’t need to be transported long distances, so it uses less fuel and less packaging.

climate change

Local seafood, such as Dungeness crab in San Francisco, have a smaller carbon footprint.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Prayitno

Be straightforward and honest

If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply tell a customer that. Never attempt to extrapolate an answer from little knowledge of the topic. Your clients will appreciate honesty and they will understand if you don’t have all the answers. A great way of establishing a personal connection is offering to follow up on their question and seek out an answer. Mention that the next time they come in you may be able to provide an answer. This shows them that you are willing to go above and beyond for your clients and offers them an extra incentive to return time and again.

Seek out more resources

The resources for climate change can be endless and overwhelming. But there are some really amazing websites that can help your business disseminate the idea of climate change for staff and customers. Here are just a few really great ones:

  • Climate Communication: Science and Outreach – With an easy-to-interpret layout, this website thoroughly outlines (in layman terms) what climate change means, how it will affect us and what we can do to fight it. It lists many common questions that people ask about it and discusses the best ways to communicate it to others.
  • Center for Climate Change Communication – George Mason University has created an excellent resource for “unbiased social science research” to engage the public with climate change communication in order to help members of the public and policy makers make decisions.
  • Yale Project on Climate Change Communication – Yale University has a series of surveys that evaluate how well Americans understand climate change and how willing they are to learn about it.
  • Talking Climate – This website outlines the best language to use and how to frame messages when communicating about climate change. They emphasize educating people to behave more sustainably and to provide constructive information rather than using the “fear factor” approach.

Many of these are designed as guides for people who want to influence policy makers, but the ideas and the information work for anyone who needs to understand climate change and explain it to other people. You don’t need to become an expert; simply looking through one or two of these websites will give you and your staff a great foundation on which you can confidently answer many questions.

The concept of climate change can be frightening for some people. For others it’s simply not tangible because it doesn’t directly affect them. For those of us in the seafood industry, one of the most important ways for us to communicate climate change and how to combat it is to urge businesses and consumers to make sustainable seafood choices. By supporting healthy fisheries, we are ensuring healthy oceans. Well-managed fisheries and aquaculture will be better able to adapt and cope with a changing environment. Choose your wholesale seafood from the Pucci Foods Catalog and know that your buying power is helping protect the future of our oceans.